Second conference on Libya calls for withdrawal of all foreign forces, fighters

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
(From L) German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah, Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush and UN Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo at the Second Berlin Conference on peace in Libya, Berlin, Germany, on June 23, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Libya’s transitional government and foreign powers have called for the phased pullout of all foreign forces from Libya and a commitment to holding elections during a second conference on the North African country held in Berlin.

At the end of the Second Berlin Conference on Libya on Wednesday, participants — which included Libya’s new interim government and more than a dozen countries — issued a joint statement in which they stressed the gradual withdrawal of an estimated 20,000 foreign forces and holding presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24.

They said the pullout of foreign forces, which had been agreed as part of a ceasefire in October last year, must be implemented in full and “without further delay.”

“Hopefully within coming days, mercenaries on both sides will be withdrawing,” Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush said after the UN-sponsored conference in Berlin. “This is encouraging, it will build trust, and other steps will follow.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the pullout of the foreign forces would be gradual. “There is an understanding between the Russian and Turkish side [that] if they start the withdrawal, it will be a step-by-step, balanced process,” he said.

Libya has been grappling with unchecked violence since the overthrow of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in an uprising and a military intervention by NATO in 2011. Up until March, the North African country had been split between a UN-recognized government in the west and another group based in the eastern city of Tobruk, which was protected by rebels. And the two sides fought over territory.

The conflict soon escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into Libya. The armed rebels have been supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Jordan, and the government forces by Turkey. Western countries also allege that Russian mercenaries are present in Libya as well.

Back in March, the two sides reached a ceasefire that backed the formation of a transitional government, known as the Government of National Unity (GNU), led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah and a presidential council.

The GNU will run the country until presidential and parliamentary elections are held on December 24.

“We reaffirm our strong commitment to the UN-facilitated, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process and the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and national unity of Libya,” the participants, including Turkey and the UAE, said in the final declaration of the Berlin conference.

They also reaffirmed their “commitment to refrain[ing] from interference in the conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya and urge all international actors to do the same.”

The statement further stressed that all parties must refrain from “financing military capabilities or recruiting foreign fighters and mercenaries.”

In a video message to the conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reaffirmed the world body’s commitment to supporting the peace process in Libya.

“The United Nations is fully committed to facilitating the Libyan-led and Libyan-owned processes in support of the ceasefire agreement, national reconciliation and transitional justice, and the holding of elections on December 24,” he said.

Guterres also emphasized the necessity of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the North African country.

“We must put an end to all foreign interference, including the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya,” the UN chief added. “I urge Libyan and external parties to agree on a comprehensive plan, with clear timelines, to achieve this goal, which UNSMIL [the UN Support Mission in Libya] stands ready to support,” he added.

However, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo noted that the whole process “will take some time.”

The First Berlin Conference on Libya was held on January 19, 2020.

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